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Winter Hiking

While hiking in the winter, it is especially important to plan before hitting the trail. Ensuring that you have some basic equipment in a comfortable backpack can make your hike more enjoyable and it helps you avoid injury and a potentially dangerous situation. 


Winter days are short, on top of also being cold and wet. Taking note of the time of day you’re hiking is important to ensure that you have the proper light you need to start and finish your hike. Carrying a headlamp will help you stay on the trail in the event the sunset sneaks up on you. Make sure you know how to operate it, and that it has sufficient battery life. 


Additional things to bring include a basic medical kit with bandages, dressings, medical tape, blister prevention and treatment, hand sanitizer, topical antibiotics, and over-the-counter painkillers. Make sure you know what is in the medical kit and how it can help with injuries that might be sustained on the trail, such as a twisted ankle or a cut from ice. 


Bringing extra layers, and knowing when to take them off, is critical for regulating your body temperature and avoiding sweating during exercise. Sweat will cause your clothing to retain moisture, so it is important to wear “wicking” materials such as wool, polyester, or a blend of the two. Do not wear cotton next to your skin on the trail. Cotton absorbs moisture, meaning that as soon as it absorbs sweat it will hold it onto your skin and lower your body temperature. This can be very dangerous if you take a break and your body cools too much.  


The best way to prevent getting too cold on the trail is to check in with your hiking partners and be mindful of your hands and feet. Are you moving at a pace that is making you overheated? If so, you should remove a layer to avoid overheating. If you slow down, make sure to add a layer to maintain heat.  


Because hiking in the wintertime poses different risks from hiking in the summertime, trail etiquette can look different. Though some trails are passable without snowshoes, trudging through deep snow in boots creates post holes, which when frozen, pose serious hazards to other trail users and cross-country skiers. Using snowshoes makes terrain more safely traversable for all trail users. If you don’t have snowshoes, try to stay on the side of the trail to maintain smooth conditions in the middle of the trail. Traction devices like micro-spikes can help keep your footing on sections of trail that might be icy. If you know that it has been exceptionally windy, bringing a pair of micro-spikes will help you traverse a trail that may have been blown over and has exposed ice. 


Lastly, know where you are walking. If you are hiking on a snowmobile trail, make sure to yield to snowmobiles. They are very fast-moving machines, and hikers often hear them before operators can see the hikers. Step off-trail as best you can until snowmobiles pass.  


We hope these tips help you enjoy the trails this winter! Many 7 Lakes Alliance maintained trails are short hikes, which make them perfect for winter days. Please note that Fogg Island Preserve is closed in the wintertime. If you have any questions, please contact us! 

Dan Woughter

Stewardship Coordinator

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